THE NETHERLANDS. Students earning their Master’s degree this academic year are entitled to a €535 refund on their tuition fees. According to the Ministry of Education website, that is. But the more detailed information available from the Education Executive Agency (DUO) seems to tell a different story.
The Ministry of Education has posted a Q&A on its website to address the most urgent questions pertaining to the Covid compensation scheme for students. How much will tuition fees be next year? How much will students who graduate this year be refunded? To name but two...
This information contains a pleasant surprise for the new cohort of first-year students: they will start the new academic year paying €542 in tuition fees – an unprecedentedly low amount. However, the Q&A also appears to contain an error. (Update: the Q&A has been corrected by the Ministry.)
“If you graduate from a university Master’s programme or a university of applied sciences programme before 31 August 2021, you will be entitled to a refund of €535 from DUO”, writes the Ministry. But on the DUO website, the government attaches an additional condition to the refund: students are also required to have attended at least one month of publicly funded education in the previous academic year (2019/2020).
The Ministry’s spokesperson confirmed this to be the case, even though this particular condition is nowhere to be found in the Q&A. The spokesperson said that he would re-examine the text.
It is an important distinction: it means that students who, following a gap year, started a one-year Master’s programme last September and completed their studies on schedule will not be entitled to the €535 rebate. In other words, it’s bad news for students who completed their Bachelor’s in 2019 and decided to take a year out to work or travel – plans that probably came to nothing anyway due to the pandemic.
The same applies to international students who travelled to the Netherlands last year for a one-year Master’s programme. They too were not enrolled at a Dutch university or university of applied sciences in the previous year. In addition, some students at universities of applied sciences can kiss their refund goodbye if, for whatever reason, they decided to stop for a year with the intention of graduating this year.
The reasoning behind the condition does make some kind of sense: after all, the refund is intended to help students who have fallen behind with their studies due to the crisis. And students who dutifully completed their one-year Master’s programme within twelve months, for example, were clearly not unduly affected.
Snags and catches
But online education falls short of the in-person experience on campus no matter what, and students who found themselves deprived of a part-time job this past year could certainly have used a refund too. The presidents of the national student organisations therefore insist that everyone studying during the pandemic should receive fair compensation.
“The Covid crisis is affecting students in a variety of ways”, says LSVb chair Lyle Muns. “This support measure is the only help students can count on this year. As such, it’s important that it should apply to everyone.”
The condition has also come as a surprise to ISO chair Dahran Çoban. She believes there should be no snags and catches attached to the compensation for the current crop of students. “Many students graduating this year feel the difficulties they have experienced over past year have largely been ignored.”
Missing the boat
DUO’s figures show that approximately 1 in 10 Dutch Bachelor’s graduates start a Master’s programme following a gap year. And of the nearly 56,000 who started a Master’s at a Dutch university in 2020, around 1 in 5 came from outside the Netherlands, according to figures collated by the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). These are students who were never previously enrolled in a Dutch higher education institute.
Have these groups missed the boat? That is probably something of an overstatement. After all, some of them are pursuing a two-year Master’s programme or have indeed fallen behind with their studies. In any event, students in their situation will benefit from the halving of the tuition fees in the coming academic year.
HOP, Bas Belleman & Evelien Flink